NATURAL HAZARDS AND DISASTER MANAGEMENT: AN OVERVIEW

RAHUL CHOUDHARY & NEERU SHARMA


ABSTRACT: The United Nations defines disaster as the occurrence of sudden or major misfortune which disrupts the basic fabric and normal functioning of the society or community”. Disasters are as old as human history but the dramatic increase and the damage caused by them in the recent past have become a cause of national and international concern. Over the past decade, the number of natural and manmade disasters has climbed inexorably. The biggest rise has been in the countries of low human development, which suffered an increase of approximately 142 per cent.A disaster is a serious disruption, occurring over a relatively short time, of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental loss and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.
In contemporary academia, disasters are seen as the consequence of inappropriately managed risk. These risks are the product of a combination of both hazards and vulnerability. Hazards that strike in areas with low vulnerability will never become disasters, as in the case of uninhabited regions.Developing countries suffer the greatest costs when a disaster hits – more than 95percent of all deaths caused by hazards occur in developing countries, and losses due to natural hazards are 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) in developing countries than in industrialized countries. This paper discusses the basic concepts of natural hazards and disaster management.
KEYWORDS: Disaster Management, Hazard, Vulnerability, Capacity, Prevention, Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, Rehabilitation.
WHAT IS A DISASTER?
As per the Oxford dictionary a disaster is a sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life”.
The term disaster owes its origin to the French word “Desastre” which is a combination of two words ‘des’ meaning bad and ‘aster’ meaning star. Thus the term refers to ‘Bad or Evil star’. A disaster can be defined as A serious disruption in the functioning of the community or a society causing wide spread material, economic, social or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected society to cope using its own resources. A disaster is a result from the combination of hazard, vulnerability and insufficient capacity or measures to reduce the potential chances of risk. A disaster happens when a hazard impacts on the vulnerable population and causes damage, casualties and disruption.Any hazard – flood, earthquake or cyclone which is a triggering event along with greater vulnerability (inadequate access to resources, sick and old people, lack of awareness etc) would lead to disaster causing greater loss to life and property. For example; an earthquake in an uninhabited desert cannot be considered a disaster, no matter how strong the intensities produced. An earthquake is disastrous only when it affects people, their properties and activities. Thus, disaster occurs only when hazards and vulnerability meet. But it is also to be noted that with greater capacity of the individual/community and environment to face these disasters, the impact of a hazard reduces. Therefore, we need to understand the three major components namely hazard, vulnerability and capacity with suitable examples to have a basic understanding of disaster management.
WHAT IS A HAZARD ?
Hazard may be defined as a dangerous condition or event, that threat or have the potential for causing injury to life or damage to property or the environment. The word ‘hazard’ owes its origin to the word ‘hasard’ in old French and ‘az-zahr’ in Arabic meaning ‘chance’ or ‘luck’. Hazards can be grouped into two broad categories namely natural and manmade.
Natural hazards are hazards which are caused because of natural phenomena (hazards with meteorological, geological or even biological origin). Examples of natural hazards are cyclones, tsunamis, earthquake and volcanic eruption which are exclusively of natural origin. Landslides, floods, drought, fires are socio-natural hazards since their causes are both natural and man-made. For example flooding may be caused because of heavy rains, landslide or blocking of drains with human waste.
Manmade hazards are hazards which are due to human negligence. Manmade hazards are associated with industries or energy generation facilities and include explosions, leakage of toxic waste, pollution, dam failure, wars or civil strife etc.
WHAT IS VULNERABILITY ?
Vulnerability may be defined as The extent to which a community, structure, services or geographic area is likely to be damaged or disrupted by the impact of particular hazard, on account of their nature, construction and proximity to hazardous terrains or a disaster prone area.
Physical Vulnerability  includes notions of who and what may be damaged or destroyed by natural hazard such as earthquakes or floods. It is based on the physical condition of people and elements at risk, such as buildings, infrastructure etc and their proximity, location and nature of the hazard. It also relates to the technical capability of building and structures to resist the forces acting upon them during a hazard event.
Socio-economic Vulnerability is the degree to which a population is affected by a hazard will not merely lie in the physical components of vulnerability but also on the socioeconomic conditions. The socio-economic condition of the people also determines the intensity of the impact. For example, people who are poor and living in the sea coast don’t have the money to construct strong concrete houses. They are generally at risk and loose their shelters whenever there is strong wind or cyclone. Because of their poverty they too are not able to rebuild their houses.
WHAT IS CAPACITY ?
Capacity can be defined as resources, means and strengths which exist in households and communities and which enable them to cope with, withstand, prepare for, prevent, mitigate or quickly recover from a disaster. People’s capacity can also be taken into account.
Physical Capacity: People whose houses have been destroyed by the cyclone or crops have been destroyed by the flood can salvage things from their homes and from their farms. Some family members have skills, which enable them to find employment if they migrate, either temporarily or permanently.
Socio-economic Capacity:  In most of the disasters, people suffer their greatest losses in the physical and material realm. Rich people have the capacity to recover soon because of their wealth. In fact, they are seldom hit by disasters because they live in safe areas and their houses are built with stronger materials. However, even when everything is destroyed they have the capacity to cope up with it.
 Hazards are always prevalent, but the hazard becomes a disaster only when there is greater vulnerability and less of capacity to cope with it. In other words the frequency or likelihood of a hazard and the vulnerability of the community increases the risk of being severely affected.
WHAT IS RISK  ?
Risk is a measure of the expected losses due to a hazard event occurring in a given area over a specific time period. Risk is a function of the probability of particular hazardous event and the losses each would cause.
The level of risk depends upon the nature of the hazard,vulnerability of the elements which are affected and the economic value of those elements. A community or locality is said to be at ‘risk’ when it is exposed to hazards and is likely to be adversely affected by its impact. Whenever we discuss ‘disaster management’ it is basically ‘disaster risk management’. Disaster risk management includes all measures which reduce disaster related losses of life, property or assets by either reducing the hazard or vulnerability of the elements at risk.
Disaster Risk Reduction can take place in the following ways:
        i.            Preparedness embraces measures which enable governments, communities and individuals to respond rapidly to disaster situations to cope with them effectively. Preparedness includes the formulation of viable emergency plans, the development of warning systems, the maintenance of inventories and the training of personnel. It may also embrace search and rescue measures as well as evacuation plans for areas that may be at risk from a recurring disaster. Preparedness therefore encompasses those measures taken before a disaster event which are aimed at minimising loss of life, disruption of critical services, and damage when the disaster occurs.

      ii.            Mitigation embraces measures taken to reduce both the effect of the hazard and the vulnerable conditions to it in order to reduce the scale of a future disaster. Therefore mitigation activities can be focused on the hazard itself or the elements exposed to the threat. Examples of mitigation measures which are hazard specific include water management in drought prone areas, relocating people away from the hazard prone areas and by strengthening structures to reduce damage when a hazard occurs. In addition to these physical measures, mitigation should also aim at reducing the economic and social vulnerabilities of potential disasters.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT: As per Disaster Management Act, 2005, “disaster management” means a continuous and integrated process of planning, organising, coordinating and implementing measures which are necessary or expedient for:
(i)     Prevention of danger or threat of any disaster;
(ii)   Mitigation or reduction of risk of any disaster or its severity or consequences;
(iii) Capacity-building;
(iv)  Preparedness to deal with any disaster;
(v)    Prompt response to any threatening disaster situation or disaster;
(vi)  Assessing the severity or magnitude of effects of any disaster; evacuation, rescue and relief;
(vii)Rehabilitation and reconstruction;
Disaster Management can be defined as the organization and management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies, in particular preparedness,response and recovery in order to lessen the impact of disasters.
Disaster management includes7 administrative decisions and operational activities that involve
· Prevention
·Mitigation
·Preparedness
·Response
·Recovery
·Rehabilitation
Disaster management involves all levels of government. Nongovernmental and communitybased organizations play a vital role in the process. Modern disaster management goes beyond post-disaster assistance. It now includes pre-disaster planning and preparedness activities, organizational planning, training, information management, public relations and many other fields. Crisis management is important, but is only a part of the responsibility of a disaster manager. The newer paradigm is the Total Risk Management (TRM) which takes a holistic approach to risk reduction.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT CYCLE: The traditional approach to disaster management has been to regard it as a number of phased sequences of action or a continuum. These can be represented as a disaster management cycle.It includes sum total of all activities, programmes and measures which can be taken up before, during and after a disaster with the purpose to avoid a disaster, reduce its impact or recover from its losses. Traditionally ,people think of disaster management only in term of the emergency relief period and post disaster rehabilitation , instead of allocated funds before an event to ensure prevention and preparedness. A successful disaster management planning must encompass the situation that occurs before, during and after disasters.
The three key phases of activity that are taken up within disaster risk management are:
·         Pre – Disaster Phase

Prevention and Mitigation: Reducing the risk of disasters involves activities, which either reduce or modify the scale and intensity of the threat faced or by improving the conditions of elements at risk. Although the term ‘prevention’ is often used to embrace the wide diversity of measures to protect persons and property its use is not recommended since it is misleading in its implicit suggestion that natural disasters are preventable. The use of the term reduction to describe protective or preventive actions that lessen the scale of impact is therefore preferred. Mitigation embraces all measures taken to reduce both the effects of the hazard itself and the vulnerable conditions to it in order to reduce the scale of a future disaster. In addition to these physical measures, mitigation should also be aimed at reducing the physical, economic and social vulnerability to threats and the underlying causes for this vulnerability. Therefore, mitigation may incorporate addressing issues such as land ownership, tenancy rights, wealth distribution, implementation of earthquake resistant building codes, etc.

Preparedness: This brings us to the all-important issue of disaster preparedness. The process embraces measures that enables governments, communities and individuals to respond rapidly to disaster situations to cope with them effectively. Preparedness includes for example, the formulation of viable emergency plans, the development of warning systems, the maintenance of inventories, public awareness and education and the training of personnel. It may also embrace search and rescue measures as well as evacuation plans for areas that may be ‘at risk’ from a recurring disaster. All preparedness planning needs to be supported by appropriate rules and regulations with clear allocation of responsibilities and budgetary provision.

Early Warning: This is the process of monitoring the situation in communities or areas known to be vulnerable to slow onset hazards, and passing the knowledge of the pending hazard to people in harm’s way. To be effective, warnings must be related to mass education and training of the population who know what actions they must take when warned.

The Disaster impact: This refers to the real-time event of a hazard occurring and affecting elements at risk. The duration of the event will depend on the type of threat; ground shaking may only occur in a matter of seconds during an earthquake while flooding may take place over a longer sustained period.

·         During disaster Phase

Response: This refers to the first stage response to any calamity, which include for examples such as setting up control rooms, putting the contingency plan in action, issue warning, action for evacuation, taking people to safer areas, rendering medical aid to the needy etc., simultaneously rendering relief to the homeless, food, drinking water, clothing etc. to the needy, restoration of communication, disbursement of assistance in cash or kind. The emergency relief activities undertaken during and immediately following a disaster, which includes immediate relief, rescue, and the damage needs assessment and debris clearance.

·         The Post- disaster Phase

Recovery: It is used to describe the activities that encompass the three overlapping phases of emergency relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Rehabilitation: It includes the provision of temporary public utilities and housing as interim measures to assist long-term recovery.

Reconstruction: It attempts to return communities to improved pre-disaster functioning. It includes such as the replacement of buildings; infrastructure and lifeline facilities so that long-term development prospects are enhanced rather than reproducing the same conditions, which made an area or population vulnerable in the first place.

Development: In an evolving economy, the development process is an ongoing activity. Longterm prevention/disaster reduction measures for examples like construction of embankments against flooding, irrigation facilities as drought proofing measures, increasing plant cover to reduce the occurrences of landslides, land use planning, construction of houses capable of withstanding the onslaught of heavy rain/wind speed and shocks of earthquakes are some of the activities that can be taken up as part of the development plan.
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